Monday, October 30, 2006

Stockton to Manteca: Raise your taxes, please!

The Record's endorsement: Stockton is telling us to vote for Measure M because it's good -- for Stockton!

The Record is a fine large city newspaper published in Stockton. However, I must respectfully disagree with the editorial opinion for the Measure M tax increase. (Or, as they put it, "seize the opportunity" to raise our taxes.) Before simply accepting their editorial opinion, consider:

First, Stockton would love it if Manteca would raise their taxes higher than Stockton's. If Measure M passes, Stockton will no longer have the highest sales tax in San Joaquin County! Stockton found out the hard way what happens when they were tricked into voting for their own Measure W. They raised their sales tax to 8 percent. They were promised a utopia of new police and fire protection, a safe, prosperous city.

Reality: After passing measure W, Stockton didn't really hire any more police or fire personnel than the normal number (more or less). The city spent the money on a sports arena, cinema, and a fancy restaurant. And I mean "fancy." The gift to the restaurant, $2.5 million is almost exactly what would have cost to build a fire station. Violent crime increased 14% or more, more than the rest of the nation. Stores and businesses closed under pressure from high taxes. Crime, poverty, joblessness, business failures, hopelessness. That is the legacy of Stockton's Measure W tax increase. And now they are telling Manteca "you should do the same!"

If the Stockton campaign sounds familiar, it's because it's being orchestrated by the same image consultants that Manteca hired. They tried exactly the same technique in Stockton. Promise them "Make Stockton Safer!" was the slogan. In fact, if you're curious, check out the "Arguments" for the measure from 2 years ago. Sound familiar? Stockton doesn't want to say they made a mistake, were duped, etc. Instead, they tell us in their endorsement that we'll be safer because the tax money over the years, will eventually, someday, make us safer. Just like Stockton.

In addition:

1. "In the quirky world of municipal finance in California..." and they say, this is our best chance. Translation: Politician squanders money. Politician needs money. Politician asks for help... from a public image firm. Image firm tells politician "people of Manteca are stupid, we can manipulate them with fear and promises of safety." Politician says "Great! Here is $160,000, make it so!"

Shouldn't we fix the "crazy way things are funded" instead of simply raising the tax every time a politician messes things up?

I love the way they call it an "opportunity." Like, it's not every day you get the opportunity to raise your taxes!

2. The editors are taking at face value the theory that more taxes = more safety. If it were that simple, we would be living in utopia by now, and Stockton would be leading the way.

3. There doesn't seem to be any consideration of the unprecedented campaign of propaganda funded mostly by tax dollars. Almost to a person, everyone touting the new tax is someone or some group that will be personally enriched by it. This is the best "community support" that money can buy. There is no public safety "crisis." There are no shortages of police and the extra fire crew needed can now be funded with existing surpluses.

4 .Why aren't the editors trying to cut through the nonsense, and not to simply echo "the party line." The campaign, on it's surface, seems simple, but is actually complex. Anyone can state the simple answers and just tell the people to "vote for it, it might do some good." The Record should have looked a little deeper into the issues.

5. Where do they get the idea that the community supports anything? See the massive spending noted above. If anything the ordinary citizen is overwhelmingly against the measure. Consider "letters to the editor" are running 8 to 1 against. People feel they are being lied to, are being blackmailed, threatened, using scare tactics, loopholes let the tax be misspent, etc. That 8 to 1 figure is based on excluding letters written by the paid consultants submitted by paid supporters.

If we're going to play the "who supports it" game, take out a paper and draw a line down the middle. Write "yes" on one side and "no" on the other. List the groups that support the measure under "yes" and those against under "no. Now, scratch out all the groups that are paid by the city, or somehow get money from the city, or are required to ask the city for money each year, or will be personally enriched if the measure passes. You will now have: under "yes," just about no one! (except a few fellow travelers if they haven't figured out how they are being used yet.) Under "no" is about 78% of the people of Manteca including me, and all of the non-incumbent
candidates for all local elections (fire board, school board, city council). That doesn't sound like "has community support" as The Record puts it.

Furthermore, why, does it matter, technically, if community groups support it. The readers want to know if the editors think if it's a good idea or not.

6. Note the error in the impact of the tax. Their math is off by a factor of ten. I'm sure it will be corrected. But it does suggest a mindset that had already decided "it's not much money." How else could that ridiculously low cost per person have gotten past the editors without noticing the error? The actual cost per taxpayer is ten times higher than what is listed.

From the time the sales tax was 2.5 percent to now, every increase has "just been a few pennies." And now the tax is 7.75 percent. And now they are asking for 8.25 percent. After all, "it's just a few pennies," we are told. One proponent actually asserted sanctimoniously that you're "letting your kids down" if you don't increase the taxes (paid by future generations!). And yet it will take $4 million or more from the people of Manteca.

Why would Stockton want Manteca to raise its taxes higher than Stockton's? Think about it!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fighting taxes and battling emotions

I'm wondering how long it will be before someone tries to shamelessly use the deaths of the fire crew and then relate it somehow to raising the taxes.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Measure M: Campaign of Deception

Last Friday, October 20, The (Stockton) Record endorsed Manteca's Measure M 1/2 percent sales tax increase. The editorial stated that the increase would add "an extra 5 cents to every $100 in purchases." If you have a calculator handy, 1/2 percent of $100 is 50 cents, not 5 cents as The Record declared. The next day I wrote to the editor pointing out the error and asking that it be corrected. As of Thursday, no correction had been printed nor did my letter to the editor appear. Since The Record claims it is "eager" to promptly correct any errors, yesterday I emailed Donald Blount, managing editor, again askng that the error be corrected. Friday, a week after the endorsement, the correction appears in a tiny box on page A4 of the paper.

I don't know what to think of this. Was the error intentionally misleading and if not, why did it take a full week and two emails to two editors to issue a correction? Why is Stockton so eager for Manteca to raise its sales tax?

I don't know if The Record will print my original letter to the editor or not, but here it is in its entirety:

Saturday, October 21

The Record's editorial endorsing Manteca's Measure M on Friday, October 20, contains a significant error that needs to be corrected. Under "Impact on Manteca Residents," it says the sales tax rate would go from 7.75 to 8.25 percent adding an extra "5 cents to every $100 in purchases." Your calculator must have been broken that day, because the ½ percent sales tax will add 50 cents to every $100 in purchases, not 5 cents as the Record states. That's an error of 10X magnitude and I hope that your correction will be displayed as prominently as your error was.

Two years ago the city of Stockton raised its sales tax by ¼ percent to increase police and reduce crime. Since that tax was enacted, reports show violent crime in Stockton has risen by about 14%. Why is the Record telling Mantecans that we should raise our sales tax and why should the people of Manteca listen? Stockton has a worse crime rate than Manteca and Stockton also spends its tax money on fancy amenities and "downtown improvements" instead of on public safety, just like Manteca has been doing.

I question The Record's support of Measure M and whether there's a conflict of interest. Stockton has a selfish reason to want Manteca to raise its sales tax to 8.25 percent, which if passed will be higher than Stockton's. Stockton will benefit from a higher sales tax in Manteca by seeing more big purchases made in Stockton to avoid Manteca's higher tax.

The letters to the editors in various newspapers supporting Measure M are supposedly from ordinary citizens concerned with safety, our neighbors. These letter writers should state their affiliations when signing their names. Two of the letters published Saturday, October 21, came from members of the Yes on M Committee: Dana Solomon, co-chairman of the Yes on Measure M Committee, and Kathryn Aartman-Weed, treasurer of the Yes on M Committee. Why are they hiding their affiliation with the Yes on M Committee? These people have a personal interest in seeing the measure passed.

Creative financing has shifted money that should have gone to public safety to Big League Dreams and other Redevelopment Agency projects in Manteca. The public should insist that the police and fire be funded as a priority before money is diverted to pet projects that might be nice but aren't absolutely necessary. In 2002, Manteca campaigned for another measure that would "save the police and fire," the Transient and Occupancy Tax which passed. Now, less than 5 years later, we're asked to "save" the police and fire again. How long will it be before they tell us they need "saving" yet again?

I've lived in Manteca almost 20 years, so I'm not a newcomer. We have a great police and fire department and over the years any time I've had to call on either, they have responded quickly. The city council and managers should be held accountable for their spending and the police and fire departments shouldn't have to suffer for it, but neither should the residents. Demand fiscal responsibility from our elected officials. Vote no on Measure M.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Can Measure M be changed or not?

Since discovering the hidden text in Measure M that lets the city council remove any restrictions that the money has to be spent on "police and fire" the day after the election the city has waged a campaign of obfuscation (smokescreen!) to try to keep the voters confused. Last Monday, the city council was presented a report that they say was supposed to "correct" this "error." However, when I challenged their latest confusion at the same meeting, they have come up with an new argument.

(This paragraph revised, see comments)

Before we go on, lets just give a quick re-cap of what we've been told every time we ask the same question:

1. First they said it had to be spent on police and fire. The city manager even read from section 150 in a council meeting. We pointed out that there are all sorts of promises in section 150, but they can all be changed because section 120 (amendments) says that the council can change any part of the ordinance, at any time, including the spending plan.

2. Next they told us their special lawyer Craig Steele determined it can't be changed. And they said "we can only go by what he says, we aren't lawyers." Sounds reasonable enough. Except that when someone actually asked Attorney Craig Steele he said things like the "citizen's oversight" committee and the audits and accountability could be removed the day after the election.

3. Next we were told that section about the amendments was just put there because The Board of Equalization asked us to. Not sure what that has to do with if can be changed or not!

4. After more questioning then we were told it was in the state laws. Then we asked where, and we pointed out there was no such law we were aware of, and in fact, the state law says it can be changed IF the ordinance says it can be changed. ("The ordinance" is "Measure M" the thing we are being asked to vote on)

5. So after they couldn't find anything in the state laws, next they said it's in really in the California Constitution. They weren't sure where. When pressed, someone said it was in Article 13. When I pointed out that I have a copy of Article 13C and it doesn't say anything like that, we were next told:

6. It's in the tax code, or the government code or somewhere. (revised, see comments)

Well… it's not there either. So where does that leave us?

Should I get up at a meeting and tell them it's not there either, and demand to know why they keep telling the people all these laws exist in some mysterious place but can never show where, etc? We could. My guess is, at this point, they would find another section of the code and insist it's there, or maybe find some other agency that they claim says something that they don't or say some other lawyer has determined it can't be changed but then change his mind when we ask them. And so on.

One last point: If we are to believe the city "information person," there is some law somewhere, heck, they just can't find it. But let's just say that's right. In other words, they are saying they can't change the measure even though Measure M itself says in plain English it can be changed. And we already know that section 9217 (state law) clearly says it can be changed, in plain English. So then, what the city is claiming is that there exists some mysterous law they can't seem to find that conflicts with the plain English we've already pointed out and talked about. Nonsense!

No, if anything all this suggests that even I wasn't cynical enough. It can be changed the day after the election, and from the "dancing around" the issue, I'm starting to think this was intentional! It does fit with the philosophy of the consultants the city hired. In their documents they stress doing whatever it takes to win. If you want to get a "general tax" increase, they will find a way to get the people to vote for it. From what I can tell, the "survey results" found that no one wanted a general tax increase (low 20's percent), and that would be insufficient to pass even with just the majority vote needed. But they did find that when probed people would support a new, special tax to save your children from drugs and gangs, at high enough numbers to pass even with the higher requirements for the special tax. The numbers (reportedly) went up to 66% -- exactly the number needed.

So, it doesn't at first seem to make any sense to try to pass off a general tax as a special tax. A special tax needs a super-majority to pass, and a general tax just needs a majority. In this case, it's just possible that someone did a quick calculation that showed a general tax could never pass, but a special tax might. The problem is, the city didn't want a special tax, they wanted a general tax. No problem. And what happened next isn't documented, I can only speculate. But somehow, in some mysterious way no one can explain, section 120 B just appeared in the Measure M ordinance. It looks like a special tax, and people might vote for it because they think it's a special tax (Manteca people said loud and clear they don't want another general tax) … but it can be instantly converted to a general tax the day after the election.

Now I'm not sure which is actually better, I'm no fan of special purpose money. But, there is no support for a general tax increase, and so I think the voters should know before deciding that Measure M is really a general tax that can be spent on Big League Dreams or planters downtown or the city bus or lucrative raises for administrators, or anything. It's masquerading as a "special tax" that will make you "safer" in some almost magical way by paying policemen and firemen more money or giving the union bosses better retirement plans.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Candidate says "we are being blackmailed!"

This is what City Council candidate Samuel Anderson says on his "platform" page:
Regarding the half-cent tax - I am reluctant and hesitant to support it because there is NO back-up plan, no plan B in case if fails at the ballot box. I feel like we are being blackmailed into accepting it and made to feel like we are noncitizen-like and unsupported of or police and fire if we don’t accept it and support it. I also question the language in it that does not sit well with me. I feel sorry for the police and fire chiefs in having to accept this because it is the only way for them to get funds.

Dear Mr. Anderson: You are feeling blackmailed because that's exactly what you you're supposed to feel. That's why the city hired the consultants who know how to manipulate. This is why the consultants stood before the council and told them if they say the new tax is for the "performing arts center" or other projects, people won't vote for it. That's why they said "tell the people it's for the police and fire."

Sure, there's some language in the measure that mentions public safety and the police and fire. Cleverly, they inserted that clause that lets the council remove that language the day after the election!

Don't feel sorry for the police and fire chiefs. For example, despite the fire chief's claim that he's asked for personnel "many times," which he has said over and over to the community groups, we can't find any evidence of even one request for more personnel actually being made by the chief. If you never ask for new personnel, what do they expect? The same is more or less true for the police chief. Any time the chief has actually asked for new personnel it's been granted. The city council has never turned down a request for more manpower.

I know what they would say if we asked them. They are sort of "told" ahead of time if the council "will approve a request" or not. But if the chiefs really felt more personnel was needed, shouldn't they make the request anyway? That's something that takes courage. Something they don't seem to have. They would rather see their departments fail in their mission, or people die rather than risk making a request and possibly embarrassing someone.

And, the a new tax is not "the only way to get funds." They get funds if they are allocated.

You're right, it is an attempt at blackmail. You should resent it. I do. So do most people. That's why we're voting NO on Measure M.

p.s. There is a "plan B" ... the consultants told them never to let people know that even if you don't vote for the new tax, it won't affect the police and fire. There are other funds available.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

PROPOSITION 90...the most important issue on the 2006 ballot

Proposition 90 is on this November's ballot but it's gotten very little attention in the press and TV. It's probably the most important issue on the ballot and one which has the potential to affect everyone in California. Proposition 90 is the Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property. Initiative Constitutional Amendment that "bars state/local governments from condemning or damaging private property to promote other private projects, uses. Limits government's authority to adopt certain land use, housing, consumer, environmental, workplace laws/regulations."

In 2005 the US Supreme Court in Kelo vs New London, upheld the city of New London's redevelopment agency decision to transfer land from one private owner to another under eminent domain to further economic development. This is seen by many as a clear violation of our Constitution's 5th Amendment. This decision has emboldened many local redevelopment agencies in their quest to declare private property "blighted" and seize it for transfer to another private party for economic purposes, not for "public use" as outlined in the 5th amendment. The term "public use" is being perverted to mean whatever a government agency decides it means. Whether you are a home-owner or small business owner, your property is at risk.

Though I usually don't vote yes on propositions, especially one involving amending the state constitution, I think this is a very important issue and I urge you to vote YES on Proposition 90 to protect your property rights and stop redevelopment and eminent domain abuse.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Redevelopment: The Unknown Government

On September 30, Joe and I had the opportunity to attend the 11th Annual Northern California Conference on Redevelopment Abuse sponsored by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR) and moderated by Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, a vocal critic of redevelopment and eminent domain abuse. It was a day-long conference with speakers ranging from attorneys specializing in eminent domain cases and citizen activists to ordinary people who found themselves victims of eminent domain "takings" of their private property for commercial use. One of the speakers was John Revelli from Oakland whose 56-year old family business was declared blighted and taken by eminent domain for a city-subsidized real estate developer planning to put apartments and condominiums on it. Though his case appealing the eminent domain taking is still moving through the courts, the city of Oakland has already demolished his building and erected a new structure, something called "early taking." Basically, a redevelopment agency can declare your property blighted, claim it with eminent domain and while you're going to court to appeal it, they can physically take possession of the property and demolish your home or business and erect new buildings. There is no due process under the 4th and 5th Amendments when the government wants your property.

We hear about the Manteca Redevelopment Agency a lot. After all, the City Council members are in fact the Redevelopment Agency. At city council meetings, they simply announce that they are now the Redevelopment Agency with a bang of the gavel and open the meeting within a meeting when there's agency business to conduct. Did you know that the Redevelopment Agency has the power to declare any property "blighted" and that once an area is "blighted" that future increases in property taxes are diverted from that point forward to the local Redevelopment Agency? The property tax increases are siphoned off before they ever get to the city's general fund or the county's coffers or to the school district where property taxes are supposed to go. This is called "tax increment diversion." An interesting side effect of declaring property "blighted" is that once the property is so deemed, it remains "blighted" forever. There is no procedure in place to "un-blight" an area, meaning that the tax increment diversion on that property continues forever. Pretty sweet deal, huh?

The lure of declaring property "blighted" is so strong and the rewards (to the city) so great, that Joe recently found a document reporting how Manteca city employees direct consultants to actually drive around looking for any evidence of blight so that the Redevelopment Agency can expand its tax base (specifically see footnote 4 of the document). With the power of eminent domain behind it, the Redevelopment Agency can buy property that they have devalued through declarations of "blight" at a very attractive bargain price. If the stubborn property owner won't sell, they can use eminent domain to seize property for a "better use" (read "retail stores"). Cities like Manteca LOVE retail stores because they get a portion of the sales tax charged and if Measure M passes in November, they'll get even more.

Have you heard that the Redevelopment Agency funds that are spent on "improvements" around Manteca are not tax dollars so there's no need for anyone to be concerned? Any time someone in the government tells you that the money they're spending is not tax dollars, that should raise a red flag and you should be concerned. A lot. Did you know that the Redevelopment Agency has the power to issue bonds, which the taxpayers must repay, without ever putting it to a vote? That's a lot of power to wield and cities all over California and the country are doing just that. It's our tax dollars that fund the Redevelopment Agency, plain and simple. Any claim that redevelopment money isn't tax money is a lie.

MORR has published a booklet called "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government" which is available online. Anyone who is remotely interested in what local governments are doing with taxpayer money or in eminent domain should read this publication. It's written in plain language, you don't need a law degree to understand it. There's also a Spanish language version available. It has also has some great cartoons!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dude, where's my safety?

This is from The Stockton Record, 11 Oct 2006, letter.

  • The writer voted for the tax because he was made to feel that all right minded or law-abiding people would, of course, vote for a new tax "for the police."
  • His concerns about the "increased crime" are supported by various reports on crime from various sources, including the sheriff's office, SPD as reported in the The (Stockton) Record. Violent crime has increased about 14% in Stockton, although there is a nationwide trend toward more crime, but not that much.
  • Stockton has hired only a handful of new personnel -- probably what would have been hired anyway. Some have retired. Overall, the strength of the police force has stayed about the same. They have, however, given themselves generous raises and improved their retirement and dental plans. So now the policeman that covers your body with a sheet after you've been murdered no longer has to survive on a mere $90,000/year and he's got a great smile. What an improvement!
  • The writer notes the real reason for the tax is to continue spending money on frivolous pet projects such as ballparks and movie theaters. Just like Manteca!

All of this, I hope, should sound familiar. By the way, the Stockton campaign was orchestrated by the same consulting group as is running the show in Manteca.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Prop 87 and Measure M - Follow the money

I got a call a week or so ago from a young lady asking if I would answer some questions for a survey about an issue that affects me and my community. I said yes and she exclaimed "awesome!" She then asked me if I had seen any ads on TV about Proposition 87 and I said I had. After reading a few prepared statements from those who were for it and against it, she asked me "If the election were held tomorrow, how would you vote on Proposition 87?" I said I would vote no. She asked me why and when I started speaking, she said "Wait! I have to write this down!" I told her I thought it was a bad idea to tax anyone, individual or corporation, to give the money to someone else to "try" to do something. I told her I didn't believe the claims that they would do or even could do what they say they will. I asked her, "Don't you think we're already taxed too much, especially here in California?" She informed me then that she was 16 years old and didn't really pay many taxes and after a beat said, "But I hope I don't have to pay too much when I get older!" I told her that if the things they want to do with Proposition 87 money were possible or viable, then it should be done by a private company, not by someone paid by the government. Before going on to the next questions, she said "You're right!"

I was then asked a series of questions, some of them multiple choice, aimed at determining exactly what the backers of Proposition 87 could say that would make me vote yes. Nothing they could say would convince me to vote yes on a really bad idea. Then we moved on to the part of every survey like this where you're told you'll be read a list of names or organizations and I was asked did I trust them or not. The list included Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Walter Cronkite, former General Wesley Clark, "any" Nobel Laureate professor, the head of the American Lung Association and probably a few others I don't remember. I was asked if the election were held tomorrow, would I vote for Angelides or Schwarzenegger for governor. I was asked if I or any member of my immediate family was a member of any union or was a teacher.

Near the end of the survey came the requisite personal questions about my ethnicity, level of education, age, and income, and any other information they can ask to get a handle on just who you are and how you'll vote. As I always do, I declined to answer any personal questions. My age, ethnicity, education and income is nobody's business and I'm surprised people answer those questions at all, but I guess they do. When the survey was over, the young woman thanked me and told me she had fun talking to me. I told her I had fun too and hoped she was learning something from working as a survey taker and wished her luck.

Proposition 87 is the Alternative Energy. Research, Production, Incentives. Tax on California Oil Producers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute. The backers claim that "California is held hostage by the oil companies" and that voting yes on 87 will lower fuel prices, end our dependence on foreign oil and provide cleaner energy. Does anyone know of any tax that has ever actually LOWERED prices to the consumer? Do they think they can increase the taxes on oil producers and have lower gas prices at the same time?

Any time there's big money behind a proposition (or even a local ordinance like Manteca's Measure M), you have to ask yourself "what are they (the backers and supporters) getting out of this?" In the case of Prop 87, the backers are going to get the government of California to give them tax money (a projected $4 billion) to "try" to end our dependence on foreign oil and develop new sources of energy. There's no guarantee that they can do any of this, only their promises to "try." They are not required to produce any results and there is no penalty to them if they fail. They take the money, we pay higher gas prices. Mark my words, if this terrible proposition passes, gasoline at $3.50 a gallon will seem like a bargain. California will have the highest gas prices in the nation.

In the case of Manteca's Measure M, all you have to do is look at the supporters of this ½ percent sales tax increase to see who will benefit. The backers of Measure M all stand to gain from a local tax increase: the police and fire unions and city employees (all of whom are paid with tax dollars); big developers who hope that a new tax will alleviate some of the outrageous fees they're assessed by the city; local government-funded agencies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau (which already gets a percentage of the last tax that was "for the police and fire" -- the TOT tax) ; and favored charities that get money from the city like Give Every Child a Chance. The list goes on.

Every few years we're told there's a "crisis" with the fire and police departments and that a new tax has to be assessed to keep Manteca safe. How about demanding some fiscal responsibility from those in charge? Our city leaders have chosen how to spend our tax money and they decided that the police and fire departments were low on their list of priorities. After all, if they need more money they can tell us there's another public safety crisis and hire a big consultant (with OUR money) to take surveys that tell them what to say to make us vote yes. The last "crisis" for which they needed to raise taxes to fund the police and fire was less than 5 years ago. I still remember the expensive Measure Q campaign signs that said "Save our Police and Fire" -- do you? Now they need saving again. When will it end?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Space Station passes over head.

This "may" be a photograph of the International Space Station as it passed over last weekend. Well, it's definitely the space station, the only doubt is over what this photograph depicts. Is it just motion blur or is it showing some structure? Who knows. But it was a great pass to observe. This photo was taken with a 400 mm lens (equal to about 650 mm with a 35 mm camera), so it's hard to say what it's showing. If you are curious, there are a few more photos of the pass at the Manteca photo log.

Measure M tax called asinine

I got to attend the Lathrop debate or "candidates forum" Wednesday night.

Both of the mayoral candidates spouted the same sort of party line. They are here to make a better future, for our children, etc.

One question asked how they "felt" about private property. Both candidates swore unwaving respect for property rights as absolute! Except, they both added, if your house is an eyesore. And in that case, I guess, your property rights end.

In the second half of the meeting, the Lathrop-Manteca fire board candidates answered questions. Near they end, they were all asked how they felt about raising the sales tax, as the "sister city" Manteca has proposed (measure M). All three candidates were against that, and said it showed fiscal irresponsibility. One of the candidates, Bernie Gatto was the last to answer that question, and called any attempt to raise the sales tax "asinine!"

You can find a few more photos of the evening on Joe's Corner photo blog.

Fake citizens' group promotes new tax

These campaign signs are popping up like mushrooms all over town.

Notice the slick "vote yes on M" sign. The sign says "for safer neighborhoods!" ... If you didn't know better, you'd never guess that was a new tax increase. Keeping with the consultant's philosophy: Talk about the supposed benefits and don't mention anything about costs.

Speaking of costs, check out this in the Manteca Bulletin. The "citizens group" has almost $50,000 to sell us on the new tax. Fortunately, the Bulletin article does tell us that every single "contributor" listed either works for the city and has been promised a big raise if the tax increase passes, or is someone who has been promised "favor" by the city; or is a "developer" who wants to tell us "don't vote for more developer fees, instead raise the sales tax!" And so on. The biggest "contributor" is the police union and the firefighters union. Surprise! Even the one individual named in the article is a high ranking city employee (McLaughlin, Assistant City Manager).

The very idea that this group is trying to pass itself off as some sort of "grass roots citizen group" is appalling. We should demand they resign their city positions just based on this kind of deception. You can argue that it's not against the law for the police and fire unions to pretend to be "your average neighborly citizen" and not reveal the fact that they get paid more if the new tax passes, but it's still despicable behavior for someone who holds themselves out as the standard of honorable actions.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It makes kind of a mockery of the whole thing

Check out this news clipping about the Lew Edwards Group. This is the consultant that is being paid by the City of Manteca to sell us on the new Measure M tax increase. What's more amazing than the damning indictment of their methods is that this is highlighted on their own promotional website. Normally, your own website should be promoting the good things you do, not documenting your questionable techniques of mass manipulation. It's as if they are proud of it.

Check out the list of techniques. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • How to talk to reporters and a "do's and don'ts" list for officials. Nothing is left to chance.
  • Creating a citizens review committee .... Calling it "an extra layer of insurance,"...
  • Packing public meetings with supporters. It actually says that!
  • Message discipline, ... Talk to enough officials and you're bound to hear the same story again and again. Evidently to them, repetition is an argument!
  • The Lew Edwards Group also directed officials to conduct hundreds of meetings with various community groups. Sound familiar?
  • "...Repeatedly express the need for projects and avoid ... discussions about costs."
  • ... Officials intentionally remained vague about where [the] hospital would be built because they didn't want to galvanize NIMBYs (residents) who didn't want a hospital with a helicopter pad near their homes. (Keep any bad parts of the plan a secret!)
  • One Councilman had the audacity to be thinking of the needs of the people, saying the bond was too much of a burden on the taxpayer and cast the lone vote against placing it on the ballot. He was chastised -- by Lew Edwards' assertion that unanimous support would be important to the bond's success.
  • In total, Lew Edwards was paid nearly $450,000. In their defense, they said "Some ... Was spent on office supplies..." etc.

Read that last paragraph, the comments from a professor of political science:

"It's become very professionalized, and there are these groups that roam the land offering their services," said Sparrow, the SDSU professor. "They've got the money, the tools and the off-the-shelf plan for doing these things. It makes kind of a mockery of the whole thing, but that's the way you've got to get things passed. . . . You've got to play no-error ball."

I particularly like that characterization as a group that roams the land. Does that sound familiar?